Chefs Chime in On: The Organic Movement

The culinary world is constantly in flux, with new developments and innovations appearing every day. In this series, we offer chefs the opportunity to share their own unique insights into a culinary trend currently making headlines.

Over the last decade, more and more chefs are taking a leading role in determining where their food is sourced from and how that food is treated. In addition to moving towards more local sourcing, chefs have also spearheaded the organic movement for both the protein and produce used in their restaurants. Some restaurants even took it a step further and modeled their beverage programs around the organic movement as well, including a growing number of natural wine programs emerging nationwide. 

Recently, capitalizing on consumer sentiment, many restaurants have announced plans to work only with organic and non-GMO ingredients. Chipotle became the first restaurant to pledge to work with only non-GMO food products, and following suit, many more restaurants offered future promises to transition into working totally with sustainable and organic ingredients. 

How do chefs feel about the future of the organic movement? And do they think it is possible for restaurants to work solely with organic and non-GMO ingredients? 

Read on to find out…

Dreux Ellis, Executive Chef, Gratitude in Newport Beach, Café Gratitude in Los Angeles and San Diego

"My commitment to organic food as a chef is an extension of my commitment as a human being to the earth and its well-being. For the last 30 years, I have watched the organic food movement sustain local farmers, soil regeneration and community initiatives. While the regulation of "organic" has been imperfect and burdensome for many farmers and there is room for improvement, it has also provided food security to the consumer and raised the awareness of the general public to the health benefits and environmental impact of choosing an organic diet. I have chosen to eat exclusively organic for many years now and am proud that professionally, Café Gratitude has stood by our commitment to a 100% organic menu. It is a win-win for everyone."

Jeffrey Paul Lewis, Executive Chef, Chart House in Alexandria

"While I am not a scientist,  I think it is very possible for a restaurant to work solely with organic and non-GMO produce.  If we (consumers) would all see the value in organically-raised food, we would actually see more diversity in our food. Also organic farming requires crop rotation to keep the soil nutrients dense, so when you eat crops grown within the season, you get more nutrients. These are just some of the obvious impacts of eating organic produce aside from supporting local growers, vendors and farmers, which is equally as important and impactful to our society and the restaurant industry."

Chandra Gilbert, Executive Chef, Gracias Madre in West Hollywood

"Regardless of diet, organic food is a wise choice. When we buy organic food, we vote with our dollars for sustainability and planetary health, as you are avoiding GMO's, hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and pesticides. It helps reduce our use of water, and reduces air and soil pollution, while also preserving agricultural diversity. Spending dollars in the organic sector is a stand for farm workers' rights to a clean and safe work environment. And.....organic food tastes better. Why would anyone, if given the choice, choose differently? The answer is usually money. Every year tax dollars subsidize commercial agribusiness. This price tag marginalizes the poor with costly health problems and medical bills. It's time to band together and demand organic food for all people, animals and the environment."

Jeffrey Weiss, Chef and Author of Charcutería: The Soul of Spain

"Here’s the absolute truth on organic food: to me, it just tastes better. There, I said it—judge me. When I order organic produce for my restaurant and taste it, I notice a marked flavor difference between that item—say, kale—versus the exact same albeit non-organic item. The kale just tastes more "kal-ey" and that’s a difference that I’m willing to pay more for if it makes my kale salad taste better than the 500 other ones in San Francisco.

That said, there’s a flip-side: as much as I love supporting my local farmers and buying everything within a 100-mile radius, sometimes that locally-picked lacinato kale just looks wilted and dead when it comes in the back door. The stuff from Mexico, however, looks pristine and any chef, anywhere, will make their deal with the devil to use the pretty stuff. Life and produce are a compromise, I guess. Which is why I don't think that, at this point, a truly 100% GMO-free/organic restaurant is feasible just yet, at least not until product labeling laws can come to fruition. But we are headed in that direction.  

My only request is this: can we just (please!) stop using that ridiculous term “farm to table” for anything remotely organic. I’m so over it, every chef I know is over it, and at this point it's merely a marketing term for adding five dollars to that same kale salad."